University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article 

Does Your Garden Make Scents?

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

Of all the senses gardens evoke--sight, taste, touch, and smell--it is the latter, that of fragrance, that has often been overlooked in recent years as gardeners select plants for aesthetic appeal. Fragrance also has been bred out of a lot of cultivars over the years. Many gardeners are once again, however, seeking this elusive quality.

Fragrance, or scent, in plants, and particularly flowers, has not always been for our pleasure only. In medieval times, scents were used to mask foul odors in rooms and on bodies. They also were used medicinally in these times, much as the "new" trend towards aromatherapy.

In the last century and first part of the 20th, particularly in the Victorian era and "grandma's cottage garden" era prior to that, fragrance became valued in gardens not merely for its functional uses. Fragrant plants were seen as a welcome change from the often stark and polluted times of the Industrial Revolution.

To fully enjoy fragrant plants in the garden, plant them in calm areas out of the wind and breeze. Such areas also may be created under arbors or by fences, walls, or hedges as in historic gardens. In fact, the word "arbor" comes from "herber," a place where fragrant plants grew.

Place fragrant flowers under windows to enjoy their summer fragrance. Try night-scented evening primroses, night-scented stocks, or catchfly. Planting such flowers in patio containers adds a new dimension to patios in the evening. Or consider a water garden with fragrant water lilies.

Use a variety of plants to attract all forms of butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and bees. Different varieties also will add a diversity of colors and scents to your garden. Include fragrant perennial herbs for fall harvest, drying and subsequent winter use in cooking, pot-pourris, lotions, and baths. This way you can enjoy your fragrant garden all year.

Low fragrance plants (such as many herbs) may be planted along walks. Planted in lawns, or between patio pavers such as with thyme, these herbs may be enjoyed much as "strewing herbs" were in medieval times.

Some hardy perennials to consider that have scented flowers include yarrows (Achillea), Marguerite Daisy (Anthemis), some columbines (Aquilegia), many chrysanthemums, clematis vine, wallflowers (Erysimum), meadowsweets (Filipendula), many perennial geraniums, species daylilies, honeysuckle vines (Lonicera), peony, garden phlox, and Tansy (Tanacetum).

Some hardy shrubs to plant for their fragrance include daphnes, eleagnus, honeysuckles, mock oranges, lilacs, and some viburnum species. A few trees even have fragrant flowers. These include Flowering Ash, several magnolias, some crabapple cultivars, and lindens or basswoods.

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